Fetch dogs are taught all sorts of valuable skills before moving into their forever home, but one of the things we work most on is crate training. Whenever I bring up crate training, the inevitable question is, "What exactly IS crate training?" Well, here are the 4 W's (and one H) of crate training, for all of our Fetch alums, potential adopters, current fosters, dog sitters and just the casual viewer.
Crate training is the ability for a dog to calmly walk into a crate and remain there for a set number of hours until their owner lets them out. They should remain calm in the crate, without vocalizing, and not try to escape or destroy the crate. The core is that they also shouldn't WANT to escape, destroy the crate, or feel the need to vocalize. They should see the crate as a safe den for some R&R. When used properly, a crate will confine your dog to a safe, secure area when you are unable to watch him closely.
All dogs should be crate trained! They may not need to use the crate forever, but they should have this skill.
Particularly when you have a young dog or a dog that's new to your family, it's really important to be able to secure them in a safe, comfortable environment when you're unable to watch them 24 hours a day. Here are some situations when it may be helpful to have a crate trained dog:
- You have a puppy that isn't house trained yet - a properly sized crate will help them learn bladder control and pick up on house training more quickly.
- Your dog has some separation anxiety - a crate can give them a "den" where they feel safe and comfortable.
- You have a young dog who chews on furniture and other items - this can be unsafe as well as annoying to an owner. When a dog is crate trained, you can prevent them from destroying property as well as eating things that can hurt them.
- You have a dog that has anxiety around young kids, other dogs, strangers, etc. - your crate trained dog can comfortably be in their crate while those guests are visiting. This can reduce stress and keep everyone safe.
- CAVEAT: Crates should not be used in place of training - they should be an aid in training! Crates can help your dog remain calm in stressful situations, but you should not rely on them as the only way to keep everyone safe, or as a place where a dog needs to remain endlessly.
You can start crate training at any time, but we highly recommend starting as a puppy! A good rule of thumb for determining the maximum time for young puppies is Age in Months + 2 hours. For house trained adults, it's best to not keep them crated for more than five hours at a time. In the evening, a dogs elimination system slows down, and they can comfortably remain in the crate overnight.
First things first, don't start off by crating your dog for five hours - start at 5 seconds! He goes in, gets a treat, and comes out. Then he goes in, the door closes and opens, he gets a treat, he comes out. Then he goes in, the door closes for five seconds, he gets a treat thrown in, and he comes out. And on, and on, and on. Don't rush it, don't expect it to be an overnight process, and remember that it's called crate TRAINING for a reason - it takes time.
The most important thing about crate training is making the crate a happy place for your dog. They'll probably cry and bark and whine for the first few times they're being crated. Continue making it a safe space! Give them a comfy blanket to lay down on, feed them dinner in the crate, and throw them surprise treats when they're calmly laying down in the crate.
Next up, don't ONLY crate them when you're leaving - crate them when you're in the house as well. This will ensure that they don't associate the crate with times when their beloved human leaves them! The crate should be a safe place all the time.
Finally, don't use the crate as punishment. It's a safe, happy place. If you start locking your dog in the crate while angry, your dog is going to hate the crate.
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